Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mouse Tracks: The Story of Disney Records by Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrber

Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrber. Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records. Jackson University Press of Mississippi, 2006.

This is the only book (as of circa 2006) on the history of the division of Disney that produced records. Many of the records were taken from Disney movies. Included in the history are tidbits about the personalities in the Disney music world, including Walt Disney. When novelist Ray Bradbury suggested Walt Disney run for Mayor of Los Angeles, Disney replied “why should I be Mayor when I’m already king?”

The book credits Disney’s successes in multiple fields with their hiring talented people and then inspiring them to succeed. Brothers Walt and Roy Disney continually sought to conquer new challenges. They successfully took black and white cartoons, added color, then added symphonies, then added special effects, and continually sought new methods of creativity. The Disneys had good business senses, and they tied merchandising of products to their movies.

Early Disney movie music was licensed to established record companies. Some record companies hired Disney talent to record versions of Disney movie music and others used their own talent. In 1936, Disney and RCA Records became the first venture to release the actual film soundtracks from several Disney films as records. Even then, it remained more common until the late 1940s for a record to re-record its own versions of music from moves. In 1938, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” became the first feature film to release a soundtrack album.

The music rights to early Disney music were sold to the Bourne Music Company. Funds from this sale helped raise money to complete the movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Bourne Music Company continues to hold the rights to these songs, including “When You Wish Upon a Star”.

The Walt Disney Music Company was established in 1949. Merchandising, including records of “Cinderella” was released ahead of the movie’s release in hopes of raising interest in the movie. Roy Disney separated Disney studios from its merchandising operations. Jimmy Johnson was the first President of the Walt Disney Music Company that resulted from this corporate restructuring.

The decision to release “Cinderella” before “Alice in Wonderland” changed the course of Disney history. “Alice in Wonderland”, when first released, was a commercial failure. The studio would have been financially troubled afterwards if prior profits from “Cinderella” kept it operating. Fortunately for Disney, “Alice in Wonderland” would appear in theaters off and on for 23 years and eventually became very profitable. The next Disney feature release, “Peter Pan”, was a commercial success.

Disney and ABC Television invested in creating Disneyland. ABC added the TV show “Disneyland” to its lineup in 1954. Disney launched the TV show “Davy Crockett”. Disney Music released a record “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” that sold a million and a half copies in two weeks. A second version sung by series star Fess Parker almost sold a million copies.

Walt Disney Records grew with various recordings from Disney movies and TV shows. The Official Mickey Mouse Club records were created. This was followed by Disneyland Records. Walt Disney recorded a non-soundtrack record “Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland”.

Several Mouseketeer TV stars released solo albums. Darlene Gillespie released the first solo recording by a Mouseketeer. Jimmie Dodd ultimately released the most.

The album “Old Yeller” was the first album to contain both music from the movie and story narration by the star of the film, Fess Parker.

Sterling Holloway provided narration to Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” film as well as several Disney records. His “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes” was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Disneyland Records released numerous records as a label with no connections to a movie or TV show. Releases were intended for adult audiences included collections from the operetta “Parisian Life” as well as the children’s and family markets. “Walt Disney’s Christmas Concert” performed by Ludwig Mousensky and the All Mouse Orchestra was released in 1957 for the family and children’s markets.

Rising production costs made Disneyland Records a financial loser in 1957. This upset Walt Disney as he was this as lost money that could have been invested in movies and TV production. Walt Disney recommended leaving the record business.

Disney remained in the record business. It created Buena Vista Records for its recordings for adults. Buena Vista is the name of the Burbank street where the Disney Studio exists. Buena Vista would also become the movie label for Disney films for the adult market, such as “The Big Fisherman” released in 1959. The first Buena Vista album was a studio cast version of the movie “Say One for Me” that mixed more traditional music with a pop sound meant to appeal to the teenage market.

Mouseketter Annette Funicella, who had never sun before, was pushed to try singing by Walt Disney. She recorded successful records for both Disneyland and Buena Vista Records in addition to appearing in Disney films.

Selections from Disneyland albums were released on the Little Gems label as 45 and 78 singles.

The album of music from the 1961 Disney movie “The Parent Trap” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Soundtrack. It lost out to “West Side Story”.

Disneyland Records, in the early 1960s, developed many recordings for children that had no ties to Disney movies or TV shows. “Western Songs for Children” and “A Rootin’ Tootin’ Hootenanny” were among the most successful of such recordings.

The soundtrack album of the Disney movie “Mary Poppins” was a very successful Buena Vista Records release.

Disneyland released its first interactive recording in 1965 with “A Happy Birthday Party with Winnie the Pooh”. Accompanying instructions told of games that could be played coinciding with songs.

“The Jungle Book” story and soundtrack from the movie was a Gold selling Disneyland record in 1967.

The Mike Curb Congregation had several hit Buena Vista records in the early 1970s.

Disneyland/Buena Vista Records made an agreement to release albums from some Rankin/Bass Production television specials and with the Peanuts TV characters. The Charles Brown Records was created. A “Star Wars” read along album was released even though the movie soundtrack was released by competitor Twentieth Century Tox Records.

“Mickey Mouse Disco” released in 1979 was a surprise success, achieving Double Platinum (two million sales) level. This album spurred the company to release more original music without a film connection.

The soundtrack to “The Black Hole” in 1979 was the first digital soundtrack ever released.

Read-along records of the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.” were successful, which led to more movies producing read along album versions.

The Charlie Brown Records section of Buena Vista released several book and record sets from Charlie Brown television specials and one movie, “Snoopy, Come Home”. An album from the TV special “It’s Flashbeagle. Charlie Brown” became a Gold record.

Disneyland Records became Walt Disney Records as compact discs (CDs) emerged. Several previous vinyl hits and movie soundtracks were released as CDs. The CD storytelling of the movie “The Little Mermaid” was a hit.

In 1994, the soundtrack to “The Lion King” became the first animated movie soundtrack to reach #1 on Billboard charts.

Hillary Duff appeared on the Disney Channel TV series “Lizzie McGuire” and her recordings on Walt Disney Records reached #1 on singles, albums, and music video charts.

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